If you thought Pokémon Go, with reports of people being ambushed and robbed while searching for those elusive Digletts and Rhyhorns, was risky along comes a new movie with an even deadlier game. “Nerve,” a new thriller starring Emma Roberts, Dave Franco and Juliette Lewis, introduces an on-line truth or dare game… minus the truth.
Roberts stars as Venus Delmonico—Vee for short—a Staten island high school senior who rarely strays outside her comfort zone. “Life is passing you by,” her friend Sydney (Emily Meade) says. “You need to take a few risks every once and a while. You’re playing Nerve.”
The on-line game is fairly simple, or so it seems. Players are given a series of stunts to perform—like hanging moons, getting a tattoo, eating gross stuff or singing in public. Basically it takes advantage of its player’s poor impulse control and bad decision-making. “Watchers pay to watch, players play to win. Cash or glory? Are you a watcher or a player?” The game that uses your personal online info to tailor dares that play on your fears and deposit cash in your account for every challenge completed. The wilder the stunt the bigger the payday.
Vee becomes a player and when dared to kiss a stranger for five seconds she lip locks with Ian (Dave Franco), a random guy at a diner. The game partners them–“Apparently the watchers like us together,” he says.—and soon Vee is on a wild adventure across New York Bay in the Big Apple. What began as a simple kiss quickly escalates. It’s all fun and games until Vee begins to realize the game controls her life. She’s not playing to win, she’s playing to survive.
“Nerve” is a stylishly made teen flick with an interesting premise and likeable characters and actors. It follows the age-old adolescent formula—there’s unrequited crushes, underage drinking and two-faced BFFs—with one major change. It used to be teen movies always had an athletic character who could be counted on for muscle when the going got tough. Now it’s a hacker, which comes in very handy for Vee as the story takes a dangerous turn. A dangerous turn for Vee and the viewer. What begins as an appealingly made juvenile thriller—complete with comments on how much importance millennials place not on social standing but on social media standing and how the anonymity of the Internet allows people to use cyberspace to do things they never consider in real life—dissolves into typical teen fare by the time the end credits roll. What could have been an edgy analysis on the responsibility of social media is, instead, reduced to an actioner with an upbeat ending.
“Nerve” is almost really good. Too bad co-directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman didn’t have the nerve to continue with the dark tone all the way to the end credits.